Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills grape pioneer Robert Lee Andrews, 84, leaves a legacy of one of the state’s top wine growing families. Andrews died at his home in Kennewick on December 15 after a long battle with cancer.
Andrews was born in Yakima and spent his early years there. He graduated from Walla Walla High School in 1949 and married Louise Verne Smith of Walla Walla later that year. They made their home in Prosser and Andrews began farming in Alderdale with his father-in-law G.W. Smith, who was one of the first to break land out of sagebrush in Horse Heaven Hills in the early 1940s. Smith had to leave the farm during World War II because the area was used for bombing practice.
Andrews and his father-in-law established Bob-Lou Farms on Horse Heaven Hills and initially raised dryland wheat and cattle. Andrews began making major farm improvements by drilling wells for groundwater in the 1960s and 70s. Today, the entire farm of more than 3,000 acres is irrigated with well water, a move that allowed the family to diversify through the years to grow forage crops, tree fruit, and grapes.
Andrews planted the family’s first grapes (Concords) in 1979. Although Concords were found to do well in Horse Heaven Hills because of the high heat units, the region’s real strength was later discovered to be in wine grapes. In 1980, Andrews planted 17 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes that were contracted for Ste. Chapelle Winery in Idaho. Another 15 acres of Chenin Blanc were planted the next year. In 1984, just as the vineyards began producing, Ste. Chapelle cancelled their contracts. Fortunately, nearby Columbia Crest Winery needed product and picked up Andrews’ grapes.
Today, the Andrews family is said to grow more than 3,100 acres of wine grapes and is one of the largest wine grape operations in the state. The Andrews family is credited with helping develop wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation, which is the second largest wine appellation in the state with more than 12,500 acres of wine grapes planted.
He partnered with his some of his children who have gone on to establish Coyote Canyon Vineyard and Winery (son Mike) and McKinley Springs Vineyard and Winery (son Rob and daughter Sandy Rowell and her husband Doug).
Andrews is survived by his wife, Louise, and six children.